Open Access Week 2019: Reflections on Open Access, OER, and Community of Practice

The International Open Access Week theme for 2019, #OAWeek2019, is “Open for Whom? Equity in Open Knowledge”, a call to reflect and act so that the future we build is one where “strategies and structures for opening knowledge must be co-designed in and with the communities they serve—especially those that are often marginalized or excluded from these discussions altogether.”

Nick Shockey, OAWeek 2019 Theme GraphicsCreative Commons Attribution 4.0 License

A key statement of the early Open Access movement, the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI), acknowledges diverse dimensions of scholarly activity including research, education, improvement of the human condition, and improvement of the mind. The creators claimed a foundational role for Open Access in the advancement of those goods, described in terms of sharing, usefulness, unity, and intellectual curiosity.

In a recent presentation to the OASPA (Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association), Heather Joseph of SPARC quoted from the BOAI to underscore that Open Access and Open Education are in critically important relationship to one another in the landscape of open sharing.

From a vision like this, one might have expected community of practice to emerge that would be concerned to investigate, articulate, celebrate relationships and dependencies among research, teaching, and learning, among Open Access, open education practices and OER. However, as noted by one conference attendee, that hasn’t necessarily been a common outcome:

Failure to form or act in community results in missed opportunities; still more seriously, it means that systemic inequities may not be met and countered by well-integrated responses that draw expertise from across the Open Movement. The #OAWeek2019 theme “Open for Whom” asks us to consider what is at stake when we don’t prioritize Open, when we don’t think about the outcomes of scholarly and educational practices:

Whose interests are being prioritized in the actions we take and in the platforms that we support? Whose voices are excluded? Are underrepresented groups included as full partners from the beginning? Are we supporting not only open access but also equitable participation in research communication? These questions will determine the extent to which emerging open systems for research will address inequities in the current system or replicate and reinforce them.

It may seem that our actions can have little impact; however, as Heather Joseph noted in concluding remarks at #OASPA2019

Open Education is actually a process. An essential process in progressing to more equitable education…

Communities of practice, problem solving with and learning from colleagues, including from other disciplines and departments, can help in finding creative, realistic, and appropriate strategies for introducing or enlarging the open spaces in our pedagogy and in our scholarship.

Of course, the matter of what can or should be open is prerequisite. What is private by law cannot be open. Research data must be treated with care, consistent with commitments made upon collection. Furthermore, many authors are concerned with issues related to scholarly labour, capacity, and equity in relation to Open Access.

With changing technology, new formats, and evolving publishing models there is plenty of debate about what tools and services are required for the future of academic publishing, how it fits in the academy, and what it really costs. Absolutely, there are costs, and the distribution of these is a both a concern for equity, and a key source of misinformation about Open Access. Among other criticisms, detractors of Open Access publishing often referred to it as “author pay” or “pay to play” which manages to connote both vanity publishing and financial exploitation at the same time. “Author pay” or APC-based Open Access is funded by author fees, and it truly is problematic as a model. But it is one model in a rapidly changing landscape, and as Mark Turin notes in his blog post, dismay with “overly celebratory narratives” needs to be weighed against the necessity of providing access and accountability to communities who have contributed to the work.

A further consideration in Open Access or OER is ensuring respect of Indigenous knowledges and cultural property. Particular care is called for in this regard, because these knowledges are not protected in law; in fact, they are left vulnerable by it. The Canadian Federation of Library Associations (CFLA) Position Statement on Indigenous Knowledge in Canada’s Copyright Act points out that the Act “does not protect Indigenous knowledge, which may be found in published works as a result of research or appropriation.” Further, it recommends “there may be a necessity to include a right to regain ownership of some Indigenous knowledge, even if the work has lapsed into the public domain.” With regard to Indigenous knowledges, Open Access and OER, it may be helpful to become acquainted with the principles of OCAP® and to reflect with care about how they might apply in a particular situation.

An interesting question at the intersection of scholarship and open education is presented by Patrick Dunleavy and Alice Park in “For genuinely open social science texts, the disguised elitism of citing paywall sources is no longer good enough,” a post in the LSE Impact Blog:

…is it enough to simply make the primary text available open access, but then to provide reference links that may or may not lead readers to useful further information? What if we cite a print book or a paywalled journal article which means that ordinary citizens (and of course anyone in education or universities who does not have access to that particular item) instead come to a juddering halt in what they can learn further? This seems like building into our open access book dozens of elements that negate open access, that effectively declare to many readers: “sorry, but you’ve reached the end of the line on learning more here, because you are not one of the privileged university inhabitants for whom this academic work is properly designed.”

The authors go on to propose a number of approaches to this concrete and common problem, which others have conceptualized as the cost of access to research resources, for example Dave Johnston’s $650 Bibliography. I like these cases because they ask us to consider how aspects of scholarly work are interdependent, and demonstrate how adhering to open practice throughout scholarly work can lead to broadly empowering outcomes. A simple open practice is to look for and cite Open Access versions, such as many VIU colleagues contribute to VIURRSpace in the form of pre- and post-print versions of publications.

The #textbookbroke and #opentextbook advocacy movements of recent years, and the work of colleagues such as Jessie Key and Katharine Rollwagen on open textbook projects, indicate the need on one hand, and also the capacity to make positive change for students by creating, adopting, or otherwise supporting OER. 

“Baby’s First University Textbook.” Image: Dana McFarland, CC BY NC 4.0

In addition to open textbooks, there are other excellent VIU examples where Open Access and OER connect in mutually enriching ways because individuals have intentionally worked in open ways, and their approaches and works have been valued and shared in our networks and communities.

Longstanding OER at VIU include Patrick Dunae’s The Homeroom and Imogene Lim’s Nanaimo Chinatowns, where Open Access digitized primary sources are presented together with context and commentary so that they may be used effectively to support educational outcomes. To help ensure access to open digital works such as these over the long term, VIU Library and other libraries and memory organizations increasingly engage in selective web archiving projects.

A more recent example, Shannon Dames’ Roots to Thrive website offers a curriculum for resilience training as “an open-access program that was built to fill a gap in resiliency training program offerings.” The website presents evidence-based tools and a research-based program accessibly, while making clear that the content is evolving in the context of ongoing research. The author’s open practice in providing evidence-based OER through the website is complemented by contribution of Open Access versions of her scholarly work to the VIU Library repository, VIURRSpace. As a consequence, the OER may be seen in relation to some of Shannon Dames’ work as a researcher.

VIU Library has a long history of working to advance Open Access and has been fortunate to work with other University departments, other libraries and memory organizations, to explore approaches and strategies that bring the strengths and benefits of the Open Movement to our communities. One result, mentioned more than once above, is VIURRSpace, an open institutional repository, shared with Royal Roads University, and recognized by the Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL) as one in a national network of repositories that offer “the foundation for a new model of scholarly publishing.” VIURRSpace has come to include thousands of scholarly and creative works and primary source items, and is founded on Open Access principles and open technologies.

Open Access versions of faculty, staff & student scholarly, research and creative work are a significant body of content in VIURRSpace. These include pre- and post-print articles, chapters, conference papers, slides, original artworks, research posters, and also less traditional but remarkable and useful offerings such as Sandra Johnstone’s Animals of ancient Vancouver Island colouring sheets. Some of these items may be useful as OER, including #PreK12OER. Others may be foundational material for research-based OER, frequently offering uniquely local perspectives and data.

VIURRSpace began as VIUSpace, the repository of VIU Library, with first contributions representing digitized primary sources of regional significance, and this is still a key focus. Over time early digital content has been used as OER, including as a focus for non-disposable assignments. Excellent examples are found in the Student Work collection for History, where Katharine Rollwagen’s senior undergrad students write and contribute summaries for historic newspapers and local historic coal mines, offering context for future users of digitized primary sources. 

In other synergies of open sharing, while working with Nanaimo coal mine information, Library staff came across a Wikipedia article which helped to shape our thinking about the management and potential of these sources. At a future time we may contribute outcomes of that work back to that or other Wikipedia articles, guiding Wikipedia users to Open Access resources and OER in the Library. This is an approach that the Library has taken in other instances, where there is a useful linkage to be made between Wikipedia and research-based information that is openly available through VIURRSpace. This might mean adding a citation, for example to the Open Access version of the Chris Gill, Erik Krogh et al. article on Fentanyl testing technology, or it might mean creating an entirely new article in Wikipedia, as in the case of the Cowichan Leader newspaper.

Wikipedia is interesting and can be challenging in relation to Open Access and OER. Contributed articles, that survive, are open but cited sources are not necessarily open. This leads to the same barriers for readers noted (above) by Dunleavy and Park — but aggravated by the common advice to ‘go beyond’ the article in Wikipedia by looking into references and further reading. Wikipedia editathons are growing in popularity to address specific issues and themes; increasing the likelihood of encountering Open Access sources will be the chosen work of many editors during #OAWeek2019. VIU’s Wikipedia Community of Practice, supported by the Library, CIEL, and the Faculty of Education will host a 4th Wikipedia Editathon together with the Nanaimo Museum on October 22, beginning at noon.

Editathon registration and details are here. All are welcome!

Recently VIU’s OER Working Group has become a useful venue for communication and activity across the University, and its mix of participants has come to more closely resemble the sort of community of practice that could begin to realize the integrated vision of the Budapest Open Access Initiative, where an ethic of sharing means that education is enriched by Open Access. I appreciate the collegial opportunity and I’m looking forward to the further work of this group.

On the way to a future in which access to scholarly communication is more open and equitable, initiatives like the Community Scholars Program, in which VIU is a partner, can play a critical role in connecting unaffiliated researchers with paywalled, published scholarly work.

As Community Scholars Program colleague Kealin McCabe highlighted in a recent presentation, non-profit and charitable organizations are highly significant to social and economic well-being in both BC and Canada, contributing upwards of 8% to GDP and supporting other positive outcomes related to literacy, poverty reduction, community programming, and recidivism. Frequently the activities of these organizations are the subject of study in the academy; it seems intuitively right that the products of such inquiry, along with other published scholarly information, should be available to support their effectiveness.

Yet researchers within nonprofit and charitable organizations who support important societal outcomes are frequently without the resources of a research library. The Community Scholars Program mitigates this situation to an extent in BC by offering grant-funded access to selected content from participating academic publishers for eligible researchers, and by supporting them with skills and strategies that bridge paywalled and Open Access information. This provides a measure of much-needed support for some unaffiliated researchers as they develop and evaluate evidence-based programs and services, produce information for public education, or seek resources for improving organizational effectiveness.

Ultimately, #OAWeek2019 challenges us to consider how to advocate and work for changes in scholarly communication that meaningfully respond to the question: “Open for whom?” Throughout this post, looking forward to the remainder of the week, and beyond, we encounter local colleagues and peers in broader networks who serve as examples or offer strategies for identifying “open” possibilities related to scholarly work, and for achieving or advancing these. It’s a common lament about Open Access Week that it comes at the worst time in the academic year, when many are fully immersed in the busy-ness of education, far from thinking about scholarly communication, publication, and Open Access. However, this is also when barriers that OER and Open Access seek to address are acutely felt.

The SPARC Landscape Analysis, released in March 2019, takes a comprehensive view of the current and foreseeable state of academic publishing:

We are at a critical juncture where there is a pressing need for the academic community – individually and collectively – to make thoughtful and deliberate decisions about what and whom to support—and under what terms and conditions. These decisions will determine who ultimately controls the research and education process; and whether we meaningfully address inequities created by legacy players or simply recreate them in new ways.

During the busy term time when Open Access Week falls, we may find little space to reflect. However, our experiences and practice every day reveal gaps where the resources needed for education and scholarship are not “open for” those we work with and for. How might those experiences change us, and what changes will we be moved to make toward building a more equitable future? 

Open Access Week 2019: Reflections on Open Access, OER, and Community of Practice by Dana McFarland is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.